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Schneider v. Rusk

No "second Class Citizenship" Allowed

Schneider v. Rusk dealt with the rights of naturalized Americans. Angelika Schneider, a native of Germany, had come to the United States as a child. She and her parents were naturalized, and Schneider lived in America through her college years. Afterward, she went abroad to continue her studies and married a German citizen. Schneider then settled in Germany and began a family. Twice she returned to America for brief visits. In 1959, when Schneider tried to renew her U.S. passport, the State Department refused her request, saying she was no longer an American citizen.

The government based its decision on a section of the 1952 Immigration and Naturalization Act. The law said naturalized citizens who lived in their native lands for three years lost their American citizenship. The government believed returning to one's homeland weakened a naturalized citizen's allegiance to the United States, and sometimes put the American government in conflict with foreign nations. In 1962, almost 1,000 people had been expatriated under this law.

Schneider sued the State Department to regain her citizenship. A district court found for the government, and Schneider appealed to the Supreme Court. In his decision, Justice Douglas noted that the justices' views on expatriation had varied in the past, but in this case, the Court ruled 5-3 that the pertinent provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act was unconstitutional.

Douglas wrote, "We start from the premise that the rights of citizenship of the native born and of the naturalized person are of the same dignity and are coextensive." He then cited the Court's past disagreements on expatriation, and concluded with the majority's reasoning in the present case:

This statute proceeds on the impermissible assumption that naturalized citizens as a class are less reliable and bear less allegiance to this country than do the native born. This is an assumption that is impossible for us to make. Moreover, while the Fifth Amendment contains no equal protection clause, it does forbid discrimination that is "so unjustifiable as to be violative of due process" . . . The discrimination aimed at naturalized citizens drastically limits their right to live and work abroad in way that other citizens may. It creates indeed a second-class citizenship.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Schneider v. Rusk - Significance, No "second Class Citizenship" Allowed, The Historical Record For Residency